If you can mine coal or oil, why not mine water? That is the question former Punjab deputy chief minister and president of the Shiromani Akali Dalm who now represents the Faridkot parliamentary constituency in the Lok Sabha, Sukhbir Singh Badal is concerned about.
Punjab is the land of five rivers and Badal says water is the only natural resource the state has. “And 80 per cent of the water blocks in the state are over-exploited, compared to 71 per cent in Rajasthan. So, the water situation in Punjab is worse than in Rajasthan,” he told the Lok Sabha, as he nudged the Centre to give royalty to the state for “mining” water.
The demand was not raised in jest. His office, in a press release said the royalty he demanded was akin to what other states were getting for mining their resources like coal, iron ore, oil and gas. He also demanded special funds for rejuvenation of ground water and upgradation of canals.
The Shiromani Akali Dal is one of the oldest and most trusted allies of the BJP, and hence its importance in the NDA government, regardless the poor show the party had put up in the recent Lok Sabha elections. The SAD won three of the 10 seats they contested, while the BJP won all the three it had fought.
Water has always been a sensitive issue in the state, for instance, the water sharing between Punjab and Haryana, the Ravi-Beas waters and the Satluj Yamuna Link (SYL). The issues would result in the pitch going shrill and sharp when neighbouring Haryana has a Congress government, and Punjab has an Akali-BJP government. But now, Punjab has a Congress government and the Manohar Lal Khattar-led BJP government in Haryana is not only friendly but also poll bound—elections are due in October.
Sukhbir, thus, smartly mentioned water without touching the issue of SYL.
Similarly, the territories issue has also been important for the SAD when out of power. The party has claimed, among other land areas, Chandigarh as the capital for Punjab. The city, built after partition to make up for Lahore that went to Pakistan, is now a Union Territory and the capital that Punjab and Haryana share.
Sukhbir put forth the demand for Chandigarh, saying that because the Centre had not fulfilled its promise of giving the city to Punjab, the state had been deprived of the revenue generated on account of industry around the city which is a Union Territory. He cited the example of the revenue that Mumbai is generating for Maharashtra. All the revenue that the Centre has collected from Chandigarh all these years should be remitted to Punjab, the former deputy chief minister demanded.
The Akali leader also raised the issue of 17,000 acres of farm land that are on the other side of the India-Pakistan fence, with a restriction of farmers' entry and cultivation, and sought an annual compensation of Rs 20,000 an acre.
He, however, lightened the initial flutter caused by raising these contentious issues, praising the budget as “revolutionary and futuristic”!